As World War I broke out 100 years ago, Vladimir Lenin pointed to the root cause of that terrible social catastrophe as “the extreme intensification of the struggle for markets in the latest — the imperialist — stage of capitalist development.” (“The War and Russian Social-Democracy,” October 1914).
His words could have been written today, as the U.S.-sponsored conflict in Ukraine and with the Russian Federation unfolds. Today, “the struggle for markets” is in fact the U.S. billionaire class’s attempt to wrest the entire European energy market from Russia.
Behind the support for the Ukrainian fascist gangs and ultra-right Kiev “government,” behind vilification of the Russian leadership and the worker militias in eastern Ukraine, behind the U.S. Navy maneuvers in the Black Sea, behind NATO’s military exercises in the Baltic States is the furious effort by the U.S. energy corporations, the banks, their government and their media to force the European countries to cut off their purchase of natural gas and oil from Russia and instead buy their energy from the U.S. monopolies.
Since the U.S. still lacks facilities to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe and since shipping huge amounts of oil to Europe might create an unpopular spike in gasoline prices here, U.S. big business is pressuring Europe to buy the dirtiest, most environmentally damaging source of energy: coal.
Though natural gas emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, coal emits twice that amount plus many other harmful pollutants.
Harold Ham, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., a big producer of North Dakota Bakken crude, told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee: “If we want to have an overnight impact on today’s global events, we can immediately begin exporting crude oil, which does not have the same infrastructure constraints [as LNG].” (Reuters, May 8)
Pressure for pipeline grows
Pressure for the Keystone Pipeline has increased. Pending that threatened environmental catastrophe, is the presently the existing one: long train lines of highly volatile Bakken crude oil are snaking their way through cities and towns in the Midwest and East. On April 30, a 15-car oil train derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sparking an explosion and fire, and dumping 50,000 gallons of oil into the nearby James River.
The U.S. government is pushing ahead with the licensing of new LNG facilities. The first one should come online in 2015. Under pressure from politicians and pundits, efforts are underway to nullify legislation passed during the 1970’s gasoline crisis outlawing the export of oil and natural gas.
But big business has favored supplanting Russian natural gas with U.S. coal. Since the “fracking” boom began, many electric generation plants in the U.S. have converted from coal to natural gas. Because coal companies faced the classic capitalist overproduction dilemma, they stepped up their exports, particularly to Europe.
“U.S. coal exports have skyrocketed … from about 59 million short tons of coal in 2007 to nearly 118 million short tons last year.” (The Daily Caller, April 17).
Russia currently supplies some 30 percent of the natural gas and 35 percent of the oil imported to Europe — 100 percent of what Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Latvia use, and large amounts to Germany.
Since the Fukushima power plant meltdown, Germany has shut down eight of its nuclear energy plants and may become dependent on coal. “If the EU decides to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, coal is once again likely to be the immediate beneficiary. This is good news for U.S. thermal coal exporters.” (The Motley Fool, March 22).
U.S. imperialism has found many willing agents. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the Financial Times: “The European Union must create an energy union to secure its gas supply because the current dependence on Russian energy makes Europe weak.” (April 21).
Among other things, Tusk called for “the full use of EU’s existing fossil fuels, including coal and shale gas [fracking]” and for opening up the European energy market to the U.S.
A hundred years ago, workers’ struggles, soldier mutinies and the historic Russian Revolution hampered the imperialist world war. Today, the workers and oppressed face the same task: oppose, disrupt and stop this new imperialist war drive.